Commissioners: Dinah Shelton, Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero, Rodrigo Escobar Gil.
Petitioner: International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission
State: State of Haiti
Update: The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti resulted in the deaths and injuries of 300,000 Haitians, and more than a million Haitians were left without shelter. The quake hit already-vulnerable communities, such as those living in poverty, especially hard. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are amongst the most vulnerable in Haiti, but their situation has been largely unrecognized and unaddressed in the aftermath of the disaster.
During its 141th period of sessions, on March 25, 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a thematic hearing on “Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Haiti.” Petitioners in the hearing included the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission* and SEROvie,** a Haitian community organization addressing the concerns of sexual minorities, HIV-positive people, and their families, and the Respondent state of Haiti. IACHR President Dinah Shelton presided over the hearing, with Commissioner Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero and Commissioner Rodrigo Escobar Gil.
Petitioners raise concerns regarding specific post-earthquake impacts on LGBT Haitians
The petitioners opened their statements by explaining that post-quake rhetoric blamed LGBT people for bringing the “wrath of God upon Haiti,” and that the law is not always respected when it comes to the rights of LGBT people. The petitioners cited Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (guaranteeing rights to life, freedom, security), Article 19 of Haiti’s Constitution (guaranteeing the right to life, health and safety), and Article 11(1) of the American Convention (guaranteeing the rights to honor and dignity), noting that if laws are on the books, Haiti must undertake major efforts to implement the laws on behalf of vulnerable groups and currently, these laws are not enforced for LGBT people. Petitioners explained that Haitian society retains a “macho” mentality where LGBT individuals are considered unnatural, regarded with disdain, and subject to persecution. As a result, many LGBT people remain silent and closeted. HIV-positive individuals are doubly persecuted.
Petitioners also conveyed the stories of daily life for LGBT people in Haiti who face abuse, marginalization, and exclusion from society. Even with the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Haiti, there is a rise in stigma, and HIV-positive individuals and LGBT individuals cannot speak openly with medical professionals. Petitioners explained that LGBT Haitians are subject to this type of verbal and psychological abuse, in addition to physical abuse.
Even LGBT Haitians who volunteered in the post-quake relief were subjected to verbal abuse by those they sought to help. Petitioners explained that even a preacher was proselytizing for the banishment of LGBT people and naming them as the cause of Haiti’s current distress.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, the Petitioners conducted a survey of LGBT Haitians, including many living in relief camps, to determine the impacts of the disaster upon this population. Petitioners noted that the disaster disrupted the patterns in LGBT Haitians’ lives that keep them safe, including the security offered by supportive family and friends, and the safety of windows and doors unavailable in relief camps. Petitioners drew the State’s attention to the specific impacts that LGBT people are facing, and focused on the right to secure housing, as well as economic, cultural and social rights, including the right to self-sufficiency.
The Petitioners declared that LGBT people are part of the human race and should enjoy human rights as other people do. Petitioners concluded their statements by focusing on the need for more support to allow LGBT Haitians, and indeed all people, to live with dignity. Petitioners urged the State to include the specific concerns of LGBT people in disaster relief programs, and suggested that the State review their report and post-earthquake survey of LGBT Haitians.
Haiti responds to Petitioners’ concerns regarding human rights of LGBT Haitians
Responding to the concerns raised by Petitioners, the Haitian state representatives stated that the Haitian Constitution recognized all basic human rights, including the rights to life, integrity, and respect, as well as sexual and reproductive rights. Haiti has developed draft legislation to eliminate discrimination against women, and recognizes homophobia as a violation of human rights, but stated that it needed more information regarding the situation of LGBT people. The Haitian representative asserted that Haiti had not received complaints from LGBT Haitians and urged victims of violence to complain. Nevertheless, the Haitian representative said that they were “closely listening” to the Petitioners and invited their participation, in consultation with civil society, to secure the rights of sexual minorities.
Next, the Director of the Ministry of Justice declared Haiti’s respect for human rights and stated that human rights are incorporated into Haiti’s criminal code. Referencing a case mentioned by the earlier Haitian representative, the Justice Ministry Director stated that the arrest of a group of forty women at the Champs de Mars camp was for engaging in sexual relations in flagrante delicto, and that law enforcement must act to uphold morality. He concluded by suggesting that the women were arrested for engaging in sexual relations outdoors, rather than for being lesbians.
Inter-American Commissioners pose questions to the parties
IACHR President Dinah Shelton recognized the increasing numbers of hearings regarding LGBT rights in all OAS countries, and acknowledged that Haiti had not followed the bad example set by other countries that have criminalized homosexuality through discriminatory laws. Shelton then posed the following questions to the parties:
(1) Is there criminal legislation impacting LGBT Haitians?
(2) Does the rhetoric blaming LGBT Haitians for the earthquake include incitement to violence or discrimination from the religious community?
(3) Does Haiti have laws regarding the incitement to violence or hate speech?
(4) For the Respondent: Does Haiti have any programs to train police in tolerance?
Commissioner Mejía Guerrero stated that LGBT people must empower themselves and become more involved with the State and various organizations to build support for human rights. Commissioner Escobar Gil remarked that despite Haiti’s Constitution and ratification of the American Convention, there is no specific legislation protecting the economic, cultural and social rights of LGBT Haitians, and urged both parties to promote such legislation to protect the rights to health, social security, and equal housing access.
Petitioners’ response to Commission questions and Respondents’ comments
Petitioners first reminded the State that rhetoric has a real impact on peoples’ lives and emphasized the importance of the State clarifying that no group was responsible for the earthquake in Haiti. Petitioners then addressed the Justice Ministry Director’s remarks regarding the forty women arrested in the Champs de Mars camp, clarifying that there were no real charges brought against the women and that they were released within two days. Petitioners remarked that it was unlikely, if not inconceivable, that forty women were engaged in sexual relations in flagrante delicto, and at best, that there was ambiguity regarding their arrests. Petitioners went on to note that although Haiti has no laws criminalizing sodomy, such actions by the State send a clear signal to LGBT Haitians that they are unsafe.
Petitioners suggested that the Haitian government research the discrimination and violence faced by LGBT Haitians, and also urged that sexual orientation and gender identity be explicitly included in the Haitian bill of rights (noting that although the term “sex” appears, it is unclear whether the term is currently inclusive). Petitioners questioned whether Haiti’s draft legislation addressing violence against women included sexual orientation and gender identity.
Finally, Petitioners asserted that while no law exists which explicitly punishes LGBT people, there are many pretexts for such action by Haiti. Such pretexts for violating LGBT Haitians’ right to privacy include upholding “morality.” Petitioners concluded that so long as no law exists to protect the rights of LGBT Haitians, then violations of their rights will continue.
Respondent’s response to Commission questions and Petitioners’ remarks
The Haitian Justice Ministry Director asserted that the lack of laws criminalizing homosexuality meant that LGBT identities were permitted. He then cited an example of a man who killed his wife while enraged at her extramarital affair, and implied that because of feminist response the man was convicted. The Justice Ministry Director asserted that LGBT Haitians must conduct similar advocacy campaigns to encourage victims of violence to file criminal complaints. He emphasized that even if the Justice Ministry wanted to take action, it could not prosecute without a complaint and concluded that action must come from the LGBT community to rid society of discriminatory attitudes.
IACHR President Dinah Shelton concluded the hearing by suggesting that Haiti could provide leadership in the Caribbean region by guaranteeing the human rights of LGBT people.
The IGLHR-SEROvie joint report on the situation for LGBT people in post-earthquake Haiti is available in English and French at: http://www.iglhrc.org/cgi-bin/iowa/article/publications/ reportsandpublications/1369.html.
*The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is an international organization dedicated to human rights advocacy on behalf of people who experience discrimination or abuse on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
**SEROvie is a Haitian community organization that seeks to improve the quality of life and uphold the dignity of men and sexual minorities, as well as their families. SEROvie educates the Haitian community on HIV/AIDS; maintains information and documentation on HIV/AIDS; and additionally, focuses on human rights issues through partnerships with local organizations.